The self-experience of chronic incapacity among the labouring poor : pauper narratives and territorial hospitals in early modern rural Germany
This thesis examines the experiences of the labouring poor who were suffering from chronic physical illnesses in the early modern period. Despite the popularity of institutional history among medical historians, the experiences of the sick poor themselves have hitherto been sorely neglected. Research into the motivation of the sick poor to petition for a place in a hospital to date has stemmed from a reliance upon administrative or statistical sources, such as patient lists. An over-reliance upon such documentation omits an awareness of the 'voice of the poor', and of their experiences of the realities of living with a chronic ailment. Research focusing upon the early modern period has been largely silent with regards to the specific ways in which a prospective patient viewed a hospital, and to the point in a sick person's life in which they would apply for admission into such an institution. This thesis hopes to rectif,r such a bias. Research for this thesis has centred on surviving pauper petitions, written by and on behalf of the rural labouring poor who sought admission into two territorial hospitals in Hesse, Germany. This study will examine the establishment of these hospitals at the onset of the Reformation, and will chart their history throughout the early modern period. Bureaucratic and administrative documentation will be contrasted to the pauper petitions to gain a wider and more nuanced view of the place of these hospitals within society. Chapters on family care, old age, and work will evaluate the poor's experience of illness prior to hospitalisation. The overarching theme of this thesis focuses upon the misconception of the poor as passive recipients of relief. Issues such as the way in which the poor coped with their physical infirmities prior to hospitalisation will play a large role in this study.